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Free concerts get mixed reviews

Community at odds as to whether Whistler Presents is a boon or a bane

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Milner's calling for an economic development plan for what the RMOW does with the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funds and to take a "hard look at demonstrated returns on investment." A component of that would be to spend less on entertainment by promoting local (and inexpensive) entertainment, rather than an emphasis on out-of-town entertainers. When a bigger, more expensive act comes to town, it'll have to be ticketed.

(RMI funding is a provincial government program that provides resort municipalities funds to invest in programs that will increase visitation and hotel occupancy in B.C.'s resort communities.)

But Mayor Ken Melamed said that Whistler Presents and its umbrella program, Festivals, Events and Animation (FE&A), is a response to a lack of promoters throwing shows at the plaza.

"If there was an abundance of paid concerts that were willing to come in and use the plaza, then we wouldn't have to put on free concerts," he said.

He said that the RMOW did not invent free concerts in Whistler. The TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival did it long before the municipality dipped their toes into programming.

"We're not fixated on free concerts but our mission is to drive visits to the resort," said Melamed.

"From that perspective, it was a great success.

"We can start to ask questions about whether it's good or bad. I say it's good. If people are prepared to bring in concerts and pay us for the use of (Whistler Olympic) Plaza, and that's going to drive visits to the resort, then we don't need to invest in the (FE&A) program."

The RMOW spent just over $2.9 million of RMI money, which has to be approved by the province, on the FE&A program. This included the cost of the free concerts, street entertainment throughout the village, marketing for Whistler Presents and equipment rentals.

According to an RMOW spokesperson, 2011 is being treated as the foundation year, the testing year for a full five-year plan that will use a combination of free and ticketed events. Because the RMI program is itself an experiment, the municipality is uncertain of future funding. According to the RMOW spokesperson, the RMI funds are being used now while they're still available, to get the program up and running. By 2013, the plan is to have operations running smoothly, with alternative revenue sources locked down for 2014 and 2015 so it's a self-sustaining program.

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